Joey Lemmon and his friends piled into their four-wheel pickups Saturday to help their Lower Richland neighbors clear downed trees in that rural, hard-hit community east of Columbia.
The friends converged on Lemmon’s home about 11 a.m. when he discovered a large tree blocking Ziegler Road, which made it impossible for Lemmon to get out of his long, dirt driveway.
He has an 11-month-old, and Ziegler is the only way out of his home, which doubles as what he calls a “hobby farm” with cows, horses, donkeys and goats.
Between the men’s whirring chainsaws and their muscle trucks, the friends soon had removed the tree.
“Eddie (Sharpe), put it on Facebook to find out if anybody (else) needed help,” Lemmon said of one of his best friends. “The word got around.”
Within the next couple of hours, the friends, some of whom have lived in Lower Richland for 25 years, had cleared eight trees even as public and private work crews scrambled to get to others in need.
It wasn’t the only example of Hurricane Matthew-driven neighborliness in Columbia, Richland and Lexington counties, which are picking up after effects of the hurricane that blocked and littered roads and cut power.
Standing water wasn’t as much of a problem as winds that downed trees and caused power outages, both of which also closed roads and tangled major intersections left without traffic lights.
Matthew knocked down 124 trees in Columbia alone. And about 43,600 power outages were reported in the two counties, utility officials said by sundown.
Trees downed Friday night and Saturday morning bent or broke power lines and littered streets in Richland and Lexington counties. Some trees fell on homes and cars, but it was difficult to tell Saturday how many.
Columbia had 34 closed roads caused by trees or dangerous utility lines, officials said as nightfall neared. Sewer spills sprung up in nine locations stretching from Northeast Columbia near I-20 to northwest of the city and east to the Lake Katherine and Forest Acres areas.
Columbia firefighters answered 260 calls during the 18 hours between midnight Friday and 6 p.m. Saturday, authorities said. Of those, 18 involved trees damaging homes, nine home fires, three vehicle fires, and 24 auto collisions, said Brick Lewis, fire department spokesman.
The storm dumped between 4 and 6 inches of rain in Richland County. It also downed 60 power lines, mostly in Lower Richland, Lewis said.
As of dusk, no injuries or building collapses had been reported in either county, officials said. A damage total is days away, they said.
Falling trees shake residents
In Columbia, trees were down across downtown neighborhoods, falling on homes, cars and streets in a city that’s proud of its tree canopy.
One fell on the Heathwood home of University of South Carolina Athletic Director Ray Tanner.
Traffic lights were out at major intersections, creating dangerous situations, particularly at the intersection of Forest Drive and Trenholm Road and at Assembly Street and Rosewood Drive.
Parts of Blossom, Assembly, Harden and Gervais streets – some of the city’s largest arteries – had no power most or all of the day.
A railroad crossing bar was malfunctioning near the California Dreaming restaurant, blocking South Assembly Street for hours. The crossing bars were down and the lights were flashing, but there was no train.
Jeff Taillon, was drinking coffee and watching TV in in Forest Acres-area home as the storm’s wind and rain pounded outside.
Taillon heard a “pop, pop, pop” from a pine tree that gave way in his yard. The next sensation was a gust of wind as the tree slammed into a bedroom at the back of his home.
“It was definitely a scary situation,” Taillon said.
In Columbia’s Old Shandon neighborhood, David Yaghjian, heard an 80-foot, 2-foot diameter oak fall “with a crunch.”
Luckily, it toppled toward Lee Street and not the house. The city sent firefighters, who by noon had cut away enough of the tree for Yaghjian to able to get his car out of the driveway.
It took another three hours to remove the entire tree.
Clearing a path
Lower Richland, too, was hard hit.
There were so many trees down in Lower Richland that firefighters were busy clearing roads to get emergency vehicles through.
“We had to basically cut a path through in order to respond,” Columbia fire chief Aubrey Jenkins said. In once situation, a team lead by a fire captain took a chainsaw to a tree blocking Old Eastover Road as cars waited to snake by.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott estimated that about 15 homes in Lower Richland had trees on them.
“It’s pretty slow going down here,” Lott said at midafternoon of the littered and blocked two-lane blacktops.
Key primary roads that meander across the largely rural area were blocked, including Bluff Road and Lower Richland Boulevard. That forced drivers seeking to maneuver the community to find other routes. One woman who had lost power to her home was kept from making it to a relative’s home by a large pine tree across Bluff near Coley Road.
The Columbia-bound lanes of U.S. 378 (Garners Ferry Road) near Trotter Road were blocked Saturday morning by a tree.
Columbia’s closed roads stretch from the Harbison area in northwest to the central city, onto the edge of Forest Acres on the east and south to nearly Shop Road.
In Lexington County, 60 state and county roads were closed by storm debris, said county spokesman Harrison Cahill.
At it worst, 44 county-maintained roads were closed, he said. As of sundown Saturday, all but 11 had been reopened, in the Swansea area.
As the rain subsided, county road crews pulled back at nightfall, leaving one each in Swansea and the town of Lexington, Cahill said.
Sheriff’s department and Lexington 1 school officials are to meet Sunday with state social services workers to begin planning how to return the 153 storm evacuees who are White Knoll High School back to their homes, the county spokesman said.
Staff writers Cassie Cope and Roddie Burris contributed.